All business owners need to be aware of their fire safety responsibilities something that is especially critical in mixed used buildings.
While a building’s fire safety features are clearly outlined in the Building Warrant of Fitness (BWOF) and compliance schedule, in multi-tenanted buildings identifying who is responsible for maintaining certain fire safety features designed to protect the building’s occupants can be confusing and even sometimes overlooked.
However with the new health and safety legislation placing a primary duty of care for a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) to ensure the health and safety of workers and others within a workplace, businesses are now legally bound to “consult, cooperate and coordinate” activities to meet their shared responsibilities.
Dave Hipkins, National Technical and Product Manager at Wormald New Zealand, (which is owned by Tyco, a global leader in fire protection and security systems), encourages anyone operating a business in a mixed use or shared building environment to take a closer look at what their new responsibilities are to ensure they are not breaching the legislation.
“Individual PCBUs could face large fines or even imprisonment if they are found to have engaged in reckless conduct causing exposure to serious risk.”
He has several tips to help business owners or managers operating in shared or mixed use buildings meet their obligations.
“The first step is to undertake a fire safety audit to determine the areas where there is a shared responsibility. Regular fire risk assessments should then be undertaken to ensure appropriate fire precautionary and protection measures are in place. It is critical PCBUs with shared responsibilities communicate, work together and regularly review the fire risk assessment.”
Other tips include everyone knowing who is responsible for testing and maintaining fire safety equipment in a building; assessing any hazardous environments such as kitchens or chemical storage areas in mixed use or shared buildings and providing staff with appropriate training, equipment and protective gear; and carrying out fire evacuation planning and training.
“A document agreement should be in place with responsibilities clearly assigned to individuals, along with a monitoring and review system to ensure agreed actions and activities are met.”
Dave Hipkins is also concerned that many New Zealand businesses may be putting their staff and property at risk by choosing to remove fire extinguishers and hand operating fire fighting equipment from their premises.
“While not unlawful, the removal can put lives and operations at unnecessary risk. When it comes to protecting people and property from fire, businesses can not afford to cut corners, especially with PCBUs becoming personally liable for the health and safety of staff and contractors.”
He says some business owners are under the misconception that sprinkler systems are designed to extinguish a fire, when they are designed to limit the spread of fire.
“If a fire occurs in a shielded area, such as under a desk or shelf, the sprinkler system may not drench the area without the assistance of a fire extinguisher, hose reel or other fire fighting equipment.”
He says having adequate and correct hand operated fire fighting equipment installed provides an “important first line of defence” for staff which can help to reduce the impact of fire, help minimise business recovery costs, and ultimately save lives.
“With the legislative changes now in place, businesses are expected to be more proactive and engaged in identifying workplace hazards and managing risk, making a comprehensive fire protection strategy vital. This includes choosing the most suitable fire extinguisher to address the needs and hazards of their individual business environment.”
If PCBUs have any doubt about their responsibilities, or are unsure about the fire protection products and systems that best fit their needs, they should seek professional advice from a fire protection specialist and qualified health and safety expert, he says.
“By seeking professional advice PCBUs can be confident they are legally complying with their responsibilities, and have the right equipment in place, giving them greater peace of mind.”